Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling & Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Carol Markstrom

Committee Co-Chair

Reagan P Curtis

Committee Member

Alfgeir L Kristjansson

Committee Member

Amy E Root

Committee Member

Jessica Troilo


Early adolescence is a time of risk and exploration for young people. In a period of development marked by increasing independence, young people are still learning the skills necessary for success in their adult lives. Positive development is impacted not only by individual characteristics, but also by the environments and social supports present. Adolescents spend a significant amount of time in schools, thus schools are an important context to study in regards to positive adolescent outcomes. Self Determination Theory (SDT, Deci & Ryan, 2000) posits that the degree to which an individual's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied impacts an individual's positive developmental outcomes. More recent work on SDT (LaGuardia & Ryan, 2002) posits that this process works through identity development. The present study sought to investigate this theory within the middle school context. Students enrolled in three West Virginia middle schools (n=1,130) participated in this survey research study. Data were analyzed primarily used Hierarchical Multiple Regression and Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to test SDT and to more deeply understand the associations between key study variables (school climate, adolescent development, identity formation, and adjustment outcomes). Findings support the notion that both general adolescent developmental support as well as school climate contribute significantly to positive identity development which, in turn, supports healthy adjustment outcomes including less substance abuse and sexual risk, and higher academic achievement. Thus, schools should work to support individuals' basic psychological needs as well as identity development.